What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

Started 3 months ago | Discussions thread
stevo23 Forum Pro • Posts: 22,440
Re: What is (and is not) "Negative Space"? (And how do you use it.)

Just Tim 4 wrote:

Interesting conversation...

But I feel that in a lot of forum talk we seek mainly to classify and label, convert concepts to absolutes and move them away from more abstract notions. We also seem to create understandings based on the meanings of the words we use to label...

I think as photographers we tend to deal with absolutes and a *visual reality*, we see objects and things as being real because we photograph real objects against a background. We don't tend to view things from a painter's perspective such as how do I create the impression of a shape against a background and how will it be perceived?

Positive/negative space is simply an understanding of the representation of shape on a 2D surface. If I make a black mark on a white sheet then I create a shape and your interpretation is always that the shape is the positive object and the rest is the negative space:

If I reverse it the globe is still the shape and the black becomes the negative space because that is how we generally perceive it to be:

So I can create a black globe on a white background or I can use a black background to create a white globe. The point is that in understanding the shape you must understand that you need both, the background defines the shape in the same way as the shape defines the background. They are essentially two shapes but you only perceive one. The shape you perceive is generally known as positive space and the background you dismiss as being *not the shape* is known as the negative space. I can draw either to create a shape and I can use the shape of the background that defines the subject as a compositional element as it is a shape in it's own right. You just don't perceive it as such because of the assumptions you make when you view the image.

I can also create a relationship between the figure and the ground that affects the way you interpret the image and the spacial relationships between them:

So then there isn't really "negative space" as an actual or useful concept, just figure to ground or greatest contrast.

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